Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You are beautiful. He is Ugly.

I have lately been thinking about this issue and trying to clarify it in my head. I think there is a certain relationship between individualism as a philosophy of the self and its effect on the perception of beauty and self-esteem. There have been many times when I have made a comment like, "oh, he's ugly", to which I sometimes get a response from whoever is next to me, "well, you ain't that hot looking either! So, don't be talkin' bad about others!" Well, does it matter? All that is making me now think: Typically, when a person admires another human being for their physical characteristics, one is said to be admiring their beauty. But here's a question: inside the psyche of the viewer, does the person inadvertently begin to compare themselves with the person they are admiring? In other words, if I were to look at a man passing by and comment upon how strikingly harmonius his features are, and that he is beautiful, does that also mean that subconsciously I am thinking about my own physicality and placing it in comparison to his? Do I believe he is very attractive because I believe I am less attractive than he? Another question: if I were to assess another man passing by me as attractive but not too much... am I assessing him on some external objective standard criteria? Or am I comparing him to me and making that judgment that he is attractive but not too much because in comparison to myself, I happen to think I am more attractive than he is? Another question: if I were to assess a man passing by me as simply ugly, or completely unattractive , am I still using myself as a standard of comparison, or have I now SHIFTED to some kind of objective criteria for beauty and ugliness that I am using? Now, let's forget about a live human being. Let's suppose I saw three life-sized statues/sculptures of men (nude or clothed, that's for your imagination to decide) standing before me. I look at these sculptures and I come upon to decide that one of them is decidedly very attractive, one could be perceived as reasonably attractive, and the last final one is decidedly unattractive or ugly. Here, I am referring to the same physical and superficial characteristics of the statue's figure... I am not referring here to the skill or craftsmanship of the artist -- I am not concerned with how skilfully the artist made the ugly statue look convincingly "ugly". So now, in this case... do we still place ourselves in comparison to the three statues every time we assess its beauty? If we consider statues as works of art, do we always or usually place ourselves in comparison to such artistic sculptures of the human form and other works of art? I think can safely say that the answer here is no, we don't compare ourselves to works of art. (You could challenge me on that). However, I believe that most people generally do infact, subconsciously or not, place themselves in comparison with other real people they see. I think this is evidenced by how people look at others on the street and get their cues on fashion, or on what's hip, or on what is considered "outlandish", "wierd", "cool", "in", etc. Also, if people were not constantly assessing others' beauty by placing themselves in the field of comparison, then why are celebrities worshipped and emulated? Why do some people find that their self-image is borrowed from how they perceive their personal celebrity? Clearly, it seems to me that one's assessment of another person gives cues as to what is "hot" and what is "not" to many people. Also, the desire to emulate and be like the person one admires, shows that some people assess themselves simultaneously while they are assessing someone else. So, it seems, that people have this tendency to look at artistic works of the human form and admire/despise it externally without simultaneously making any conscious or subconscious assessment of themselves... however, when it comes to watching other real people, immediately the focus becomes not a matter of admiring/despising those people independently, but of actually placing oneself right along-side that other person. And this behavior, whether subconscious or deliberate, I believe is fundamentally because of a philosophical outlook. So, when someone tells me that I should not make an assessment of a person as being "ugly" because I am not that "hot-looking" either, I think to myself, "does it matter that I am not "hot-looking" either? And WHY should it matter?" Incidentally, I've never heard anyone say to me "don't say the other guy is very attractive! You ain't that bad yourself!" I think the fundamental philosophical context is one of individualism versus collectivsim. In a collectivist mentality, one perceives their own existence as being in a relation to another. A collectivist mentality always has the "other" not the "self" as the basic standard. Every assessment, judgment, etc. is filtered through the lens of the other-oriented context. Hence, every assessment is made through the lens of "them in comparison to me". There is no "me" beyond and outside of comparison, needless of comparison. Their whole idea of the self, their self-image, and their self-esteem is derived from the people around them - "what do others think of me, am I dressed better than him, does he find me more attractive than that other kid, am I smarter than that other boy, do you like me because I'm better than your ex?" There is empirical evidence for that phenomena. Studies have shown that Japanese people are more likely to describes themselvse as "mother, husband, friend, lover", etc. -- which are all other-oriented descriptions of the self. Americans and Australians, on the other hand, have typically described themselves as being a "businessman, philosopher, human, intelligent, rockstar, actor, sex-worker, whore, the President," etc. -- notice how they are mostly independent assessment of selves. This collectivist mentality renders the person incapable of self-assessment on objective criteria and standards that stand outside of other people. So, beauty is what people in general decide it is. Or "hip" is what my friends think it is. The person's sense of self-esteem is also handicapped because it requires the existence of other persons around to give them an assessment of themselves. Note, how this does not carry over to their assessment of inanimate objects like human sculptures and works of art. An individualist philosophy however, gives ample psychological and emotional strength to perceive one's self as honestly as possible. Hence, when I look at a beautiful human being, I am not saying that he is more beautiful than I am (though that could be true and presumed in many cases)... what I am saying is, I see beauty in him that should be admired.... it works the same way as if I saw a beautiful work of art and I commented likewise. I am not stating anything of a relationship between the artwork's beauty and my own. Infact, I would go so far as to say that beautiful people are beautiful Art! And as such they can and should be assessed objectively. It is easy for me to look at an unattractive person and comment about it because to me it is like a matter of fact. It is true, so I recognize it. It has nothing to do with me, hence why should I feel "guilty" of making such a comment as if I am obligated to be UGLIER than the other person inorder to say that he is ugly! To feel guilty for admitting a fact of reality is actually a desire to evade that reality. Similarly, to say that someone is more attractive than I am is not to say that "oh I feel like shit now. I am so ugly, I am not good enough. I just lost all my self-esteem." No, it simply means that I admire that person's beauty, that he is certainly attractive, and it is because I view him and myself as two separate, distinct, individuals that do not require to be placed under any unnecessary or unwarranted comparisons. Oh, I bet the arguments I make in this post will be highly controversial, to say the least!


Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Oh... and I think I want to make it very clear that all of this was just rampant speculation on my part. Kinda like forming a hypothesis... now, all I need is any/some social scientist to test that hypothesis out for me.

I guess the operational definitions are pretty clear for the variables: Beauty, i.e. attractiveness, harmony of all elements of one's physical features...
Individualism: primacy of the self over others
Collectivism: primacy of others over the self and in intrinsic relation to the self.

A sample hypothesis could be: Individualists are less likely to assess another's beauty in relation to themselves.

12/08/2005 11:10:00 AM  

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